’m not in the hall of fame / I’m not on the wall of shame / I guess you’ll find me in between somewhere,” sings Elizabeth Cook on the otherwise useless “Mama’s Prayers,” (As in, “I’m in my…,” aww), a goopy roadblock in the middle of her mostly rousing new Balls. But those three lines sum up the new country dilemma as well as anyone. How’s Cook, a young pretty blonde singer, supposed to stand out from all the other young, pretty blonde singers in a genre so formally traditionalist?
For the first five tracks, Cook briefly flirts with the most exciting country persona in years: the kick-ass female. Her third album might make fans giggle by planting such a brassy title on a honeyed voice that drips signature twang-syrup. But Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson are what’s selling right now, and especially in the case of the former, that’s not a bad thing at all. Except for that aforementioned goopy stretch in the middle, these Balls can hang (sorry) with those platinum-sellers.
She doesn’t quite shotgun a beer or shoot a cheating ex, but Cook’s trademark is making the out-of-touch sound cute. She exploits her own naiveté on “Gonna Be” (As in, “I’m not a has-been, I’m still a…,” awww), in which she’s got a whole future ahead of her if CD sales stop drying up. And her token badass song, “Times Are Tough in Rock ‘n’ Roll,” leads with not the hick-hop beats of Big & Rich or the redneck-thrash guitar of Jason Aldean but a thwonging jew’s harp. She actually seems surprised to learn “a thousand lies” made Britney Spears famous. But don’t think just because she covers Lou Reed and stole her album title from a 1998 song by kinda-country genius Amy Rigby that you’re in for some deep revelations.
Bask in the enthusiasm instead, the traditionalist gallop of “Times are Tough,” and the anthemic strut of “Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman.” Her voice is a secret weapon when she puts it in second gear, yanking her own leash and vaulting from ear-candy cooing to powerballing soul. The gorgeous “Rest Your Weary Mind” particularly benefits from her quick, memorable throat inventions, and the title tune escapes its slightly counterproductive lyric (does it really take “balls” to make a good lasagna?) on the grounds of sheer good-timeyness. And on the bluesy double-shuffle “He Got No Heart,” a wall of Elizabeth Cooks proves so much better than one. Covering the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning” is pretty left-field for a twang act uninfluenced by Jeff Tweedy, but it sounds totally natural and entertaining as ever all loosened down for the saloon. She could use a breakout single, but her improving canon and winning personality, plus a voice that’ll guarantee a career more stable than Ms. Spears’, are more than enough to keep her in the “Gonna Be” pile for the time being. Aww.
Reviewed by: Dan Weiss
Reviewed on: 2007-06-22